[r]ating: ESRB Rating of T for Teen < language; mature themes and concepts; plot complexity >
[s]ummary: There is more to Hyuuga Neji than many know. Unfortunately, when part of his hidden life goes wrong, he's going to have to keep everyone in his 'normal' life from finding out just how much more there is. AU. NT.
[n]otes: Firstly, I fool around with Chinese and Japanese mythology/folk religion a lot. I am firm believer in artistic license, and have taken such liberties. Secondly, what was SUPPOSED to be a small homage to my personal favourite fic of Goldberry's kind of... ballooned. A lot. Actually, it didn't so much balloon as explode, and this is what became of it.
4 October, Year 11 Tsunade
The room— normally dust-free, with bedcovers folded perfectly (complete with hospital corners) and not a book, paper, or article of clothing out of place— was awash in words, numbers, and symbols. Cream white walls that no-one had bothered to paint or personalize now suffered under mounds of paper tacked on, taped on, or otherwise affixed. Light pencil marks, smeared blue ink, and runny calligraphy almost entirely blotted out the blank space on the paper. The result looked not unlike what might have happened had an obsessed psychopath with a journaling fixation been given writing utensils, blank wallpaper, and full leave to redecorate the room.
The writing desk, a western-style affair, normally contained only a single stack of books, with a small stack of thin spiral notepads right beside it. The room's owner did not often stack or place papers on the desk's surface. Instead, with the tidiness, precision, and terrifying consistency of a well-organized madman, he sorted and filed each paper into a collection of manila folders. These he stored within the bottom left drawer of his desk, which appeared very large (nearly cavernous, in fact) at first glance, and was actually much larger than most who saw it thought.
Today, however, was not a normal day. In fact, Hyuuga Neji had not had a normal day since the fourth of September. Considering that it was now the fourth of October, one might go so far as to say that Neji had not had a normal month.
The accumulation of thirty abnormal days left the desk covered in paper. Frankly, it looked like a senile Shinto priest, a mad carpenter (or perhaps a geometry geek with an unhealthy attachment to spheres, trigonometry, calculus, and mathematical cryptography), and a crazed college student had each emptied out every single paper they owned onto the poor desk. Graph paper covered in approximations of various I Ching configurations, the parchment used by priests covered in tentative kotodama printed on in blue ballpoint, sheaves and sheaves of blank white stationery with tiny, evenly-spaced scribbles and various other scraps of paper very nearly hid the desk from sight.
And, unfortunately for the obviously abused desk, whatever loose-leaf paper hadn't conquered, books had eaten. Neji had piled on all sorts of books. Old books, new books, books with large print, books with lots of long words and very tiny lettering, books with tough leather binding, books that were coming apart at the spine. There were thin books, thick books (lots of these, actually, and they had tiny print), dusty books, clean books, books with food-stains or writing in the margins or bright pink highlighting. Books in Latin, books in Japanese, books in Simplified Chinese, books in Traditional Chinese, and German and English and French and there was even a book written in something Neji was fairly certain was either an Enochian tongue or Swahili. That one was useless as Neji spoke neither Swahili nor any of the Enochian tongues. He'd only kept it around for the depiction of a woman he was fairly certain was Gong De Tian giving over a young girl to a man he was equally certain was Bishamon.
Had a complete stranger— or even someone he knew from work— walked into his room, they would have assumed he was a madman. He certainly looked the part, scribbling in a notebook and mentally tallying the occultic significance of the numbers ten, twenty, and two.
His current state, however, would not have surprised a Hyuuga. After all, they had a greater calling. The only children the Hyuuga did not train in the Sight and proceed to place in careers that would benefit the House had a purely physical Byakugan. Those who Saw (and almost all Hyuuga Saw; it was part of being Hyuuga) went on to become shinobi or civilian as the House saw fit.
Those who Saw well chose their own paths. Or so they claimed, but the House's private martial art style focused on circular motion for a reason. The House's history possessed certain cycles. Those who merely Saw revolved around the House, caught up in its gravity without realising. But those who Saw well had just enough awareness to know that the House revolved around something, just enough significance to propel themselves out of the House's epicycle— and orbit the House's calling.
That calling was, put simply, to Call. And that calling drew all the greater ones in, slowly but inexorably, until they began to work on the Final Summoning. The idea had existed for years, something they all whispered about late at night, after too many cups of tea and too much late-night posturing. The intelligentsia all got involved in the debate at least once a year, and every truly great Seer became involved in the search for the Final Summoning at least once.
It was a temporary fixation. A phase. But while it lasted, it was intense. Intense enough that some Seers forgot to bathe, sleep, or eat; others took care of themselves but had to be held captive from their 'normal' lives in order to preserve appearances. Nothing screamed "raving madman" or "secretly a genius occult scholar" louder than somebody chattering non-stop about the I Ching, Bishamon, Shinto rituals, geometry, numerology, Gong De Tian, the Kaiten, and whether or not the Dan Xi configuration was in fact better than the King Wen.
Somebody slid a shoji door open. The paper rustled, and Neji's head jerked up.
A teenaged girl with hair a similar colour to Neji's own red-black stepped into the room. She wore the dark green and black fuku of Konoha's shinobi academy, and her pale eyes had widened with wonder.
"Are you anywhere close?"
Neji blinked, trying to place the identity of the waifish creature in front of him. After a moment, he looked back to his notepad, and then back at the girl. He gave a single nod and then went back to his work.
"Right, then," said the girl, steepling her fingers in a manner that would have been reminiscent of her elder sister, had Neji been watching her. "Uhm. Should I just leave you to it, then?"
Neji's response barely counted as human. "Hn."
The shoji door slid closed.
Neji returned to his work.
5 October, Year 11 Tsunade
The room is messy. Not in a slovenly manner— it is a scholastic sort of mess. More 'untidy' than anything. It bears all the markings of obsessive organisation gone horribly, horribly wrong.
For once, the room's owner has left. Somehow, the space seems a little less mad with him gone. That may be because his uncharacteristically crazed and enthusiastic celebrating in the halls surpasses even the insanity evident in his pathological scribbling. It's more likely that the room seems less mad because the muttering has finally ceased.
The barest corner has a stack of books nearly two metres high, give or take a few dozen centimetres. The corner contains nothing save that stack.
And then, suddenly, something else occupies the corner. The books remain where they are even as a young woman appears exactly where they are. Both the young woman and the books inhabit the same air molecules at the same time, which should be impossible.
If an observer posited that the impossible became all too possible around this woman, they wouldn't be far off the mark. (Only they would, because this woman is no woman. That's exactly why she makes the impossible possible.)
Aside from her ability to break the various and sundry laws of physics, there is very little else out of the ordinary about her. She's quite short, noticeably shorter than the stack of books she appeared in. She has tiny feet, too, and long dark hair. None of that is too unusual.
The glowing pearl in her left hand, though, might count as a little odd, and same for the traditional Han Chinese tang-yi. Most Japanese would identify it (incorrectly) as a kimono or a yukata, though, so it's an acceptable eccentricity.
Of course, in the Hyuuga household, radiant precious stones and traditional dress are all fairly normal. Hyuuga Hiashi and his twin Hizashi once expended so much magical energy that they could read by the light of their fingers for weeks afterward. Ever since, nobody's batted an eye at brightly glowing skin, visible auras, or any other sort of xenoluminescence.
But the ability to move from the corner to the desk in just three dignified and delicate steps would draw attention. After all, judging by her leg length, that should take a dozen or so very small paces.
The desk's contents rustle and move without shifting a millimetre. She flips through pages upon pages of notes, even lifting a sheaf of them to her nose and tilting them ninety degrees, without visibly disturbing them at all.
After a while, her brow furrows.
The papers land back on the desk. Just as suddenly as she was there, she leaves.
Somewhere, there is a world of burnished gold sunlight, rivers that sparkle brightly enough to blind, grass that is always green (except when covered by aggressively red blood thick as chocolate syrup), and people who are not people. It is a quieter, simpler world, except for when it isn't. It isn't so much 'supernatural' as it is nature to the power of ten, and its denizens aren't so much super-human as they are exaggerated versions of humans. In a sense, this place is more natural than nature itself and its inhabitants are more human than any human who ever lived.
And in this world is an endless sea. The ocean is vast, entirely without bounds, and with few means of crossing. It is far, however, from empty. It has innumerable islands. Any attempt at counting them all would fail, because islands rise and fall almost constantly.
That's all well and good, but this story requires only one island to tell itself. Most of the ocean that surrounds this specific island is shallow and calm, though it is particularly deep and turbulent when travelling in certain directions. People pass between this island and a few others with little enough effort that they don't mind, but just enough effort that they don't do it lightly.
And in this place, there are three people. (Actually, there is an ineffable legion of people. Japanese religion has dozens or even hundreds of deities, and that isn't counting the demi-Powers that filial piety creates. But only three of them count, and one is almost totally alien to this island, while the third calls it home, even if she doesn't hail from here.)
One of them is a tall, well-muscled man in samurai armour. His specific proficiency is in fact in spears and lances, which he does not deign to carry himself. He has pale eyes, and dark hair. He holds his head high, supremely self-confident. His countenance is that of one used to dispensing justice and making executive decisions.
The second is a tall, slight woman. Her only other lover once described her as "slim as a sword-blade, quick as a cut," and that is certainly true. She carries several spears, two shields, and of course wears her own sword. She has tied her plain brown hair in two distinctive buns, which gives her the appearance of a mouse. She dresses herself in a manner designed to please the first, and sits at his right hand.
The third is closely related to the second. Her older (and shorter) sister, in fact. She is not from this land. Even less "from it" than her supposed-beloved younger sister. She has tiny feet and wears a tang-yi. She carries a glowing pearl in her left hand, and made a bold gesture with her right. She has stopped making the gesture. She wants to address an important issue and then leave. There is no time for ritual phrases or gestures.
The man raises an eyebrow in a painfully ironic arch. "You wished to speak with us?"
"Then speak, luck-goddess, and get you gone."
The luck-goddess eyes her younger sister, arching her own brow to imply that she knows why the Lord Bishamon wants her to leave. She considers making a point of it, but then decides not to. Why needle him with petty embarrassment when she can shock him— and perhaps cripple him without breaking the Laws of Being.
"Your descendants have started up their game again, Lord Bishamon."
He waves a hand. "All my descendants start it at some point. They all fail. Why should you take interest?"'
In contrast to his apparent relaxation, his eyes narrow. He isn't worried about the Hyuuga, Gong De Tian knows. He takes offence at her snooping around in what he regards as his dominion. And, technically, the activities of his mortal descendants are far outside her realm of influence.
Except for one mitigating factor: their ability to affect her sister.
"Because this time, the attempt will succeed. If he goes through with it, it will hurt Ah-Tian."
That gets his attention. First, because what Gong De Tian has just suggested is widely known to be impossible. No mortal can summon a god against his will, not even if they're related. The Hyuuga have been trying for centuries. Almost since Bishamon sired the first Hyuuga on a blind mortal woman. Second, it is just as widely known that Bishamon and Gong De Tian loathe each other to depths of their dominions. In giving over her unusually lucky younger sister to him as a gesture of good faith, Gong De Tian effectively cut all ties with the half-mortal girl.
They have not spoken since the collapse of the Heian dynasty. Even during the middle of the feudal era, when worship of Chinese deities became somewhat more common (and worship of Bishamon and his Right Hand subsequently diminished), Gong De Tian never contacted them. Ah-Tian's pain brooked no notice at all.
So why should Gong De Tian decide she cares about her now?
All this and more Bishamon wonders, before deciding to hear her out. He says nothing, though, merely looks to his shield maiden and closes his eyes. It has taken him more ages than any human could imagine to do so, but he has fallen in love with her. He is in love enough that at times he ponders swearing off dalliances with mortals.
Leaving her here alone, to manage his admittedly heavy workload and reign over his admittedly unruly dominion, is not an option.
"Tell me more."
And Gong De Tian does. She tells him the whole sordid story. A mortal who finally saw just how important Ah-Tian is to the calculations. The third one in the history of the Final Summoning, in fact. And then she shows him the diagrams, the kotodama, the array.
Bishamon's eyes widen. His jaw falls open and he gapes like a trout out of water. Ah-Tian grips his hand, slightly afraid at the level of genius this particular human has shown. They aren't supposed to be that smart, are they? And it wouldn't even take him very much effort to go through with it.
"I can persuade a human to change things, of course. Direct action is beyond my purview— and, as this does not relate to war, beyond yours— but I can certainly do something about it. I have dominion over circles and spheres. Pearly-white Hyuuga eyes or the I Ching configuration..."
Bishamon closes his eyes and thinks for a while. He is silent for a time that makes Gong De Tian nervous. Will he try to do it himself? Will he do nothing and let his wayward descendant bind him for the duration of his mortal lifetime? Will she still be able to laugh as much if his favoured followers enslave him and she had no involvement in it at all?
"Do it," he says at last.
"I can only preserve about two-thirds of your power." There. She's done her piece to warn him. If he can't figure out who has a third of his power, that's not her problem.
As she expected, his glare sharpens on her. Unbeknownst to him, he's glaring for all the wrong reasons.
His teeth grit together. "Do. It."
She nods, and with a round flash of white light, she is gone.
5 October, Year 11 Tsunade
Konoha Shinobi Academy, Higashi Konoha. Final period.
Geometry was far from Hyuuga Hanabi's favourite subject. She didn't really have a favourite subject. At least, not a strictly academic one. She liked genjutsu, and she excelled in taijutsu, but they had those classes in the mornings. The school devoted its afternoons to civilian pursuits.
She'd already finished her homework and her class work, and she had eight minutes until the end of class. Idly, she worked at geometry and trigonometry on scratch paper. The problems she worked had absolutely nothing to do with any class.
No, she was playing with the figures and concepts she had gleaned from reading her older cousin's work. Her protractor and compass showed her dozens of different possible I Ching configurations. Silently, milked-over eyes drifting nearly closed, she continued to work at it.
On the left side of the room, the round, round clock on the wall stopped ticking. On the right side of the room, the sun seemed to pause in its course. But not only did it stop moving, it got brighter, and hotter, until all the light in the room was white-hot. A classmate's round earrings flashed with a magical glow.
Where Gong De Tian had not been, she was.
The short, slightly plump and most definitely curvaceous geometry teacher— Yamanaka Inome, one of Yamanaka Ino's many cousins— also seemed to glow for a moment. Even as time around her stopped, she still seemed quite alert. After a moment, she began to smile.
She walked over to Hyuuga Hanabi's desk, her high heels click-click-clicking against the tiled floor. She leaned down, placed a finger over Hanabi's compass, and very carefully altered its future. Instead of creating the same point for Ch'ien that Neji's compass had made, this compass would create a subtly different point. Just different enough to change Neji's summoning.
And, of course, it would engender in Hanabi the belief that she was absolutely correct, and a strong need to "repair" Neji's summoning.
Task complete, Gong De Tian/Inome walked back to where Inome had once stood, resumed her prior expression, and then—
Time resumed. Where Gong De Tian had been, she was not.
8 October, Year 11 Tsunade
Sunlight slanted through the leaves, dappling the clearing in various mixtures of light and shadow. Evidently, some poor idiot had let the journaling madman out of the house: somebody had tied the paper strings most commonly seen in Shinto ritual to eight trees, in an unnaturally perfect emulation of a circle. Each tree formed a point on the circle, and the same journaling madman had pasted an o-fuda to each tree. Each o-fuda bore three lines of an I Ching trigram, as well as very specific kotodama.
The trigrams, Neji knew, were very important. Had another Hyuuga asked him to explain why, however, he would be unable to do so without chattering about Shinto, Buddhist ritual, the priests in India, geometry, numerology, and, of course, point out the significance of the Hakkeshou in the clan's techniques. Mention of the Hakkeshou ended nearly all arguments. And if, by chance, that same Hyuuga dared to suggest that Bishamon was one of the seven luck gods, Neji would probably have to kill the idiot. Yes, there were seven luck gods— but there was technically an eighth. The Right Hand of Bishamon, the god's spear-carrier, the good-luck sister of Gong De Tian. So eight was still significant.
He reviewed the Polaroids of his array. He flipped through them time after time, eyes worriedly scanning the clearing. Behind him, well outside his circle, Hyuuga Hiashi, Hyuuga Hinata, and Hyuuga Hanabi all watched. Hanabi had a fervent gleam in her eye, and couldn't seem to stop rubbing her palms up against each other.
Neji barely noticed.
There was something wrong. Something was off. He couldn't place his finger on what.
After a little while, he gave up. If he couldn't notice the difference, it likely wouldn't matter too much.
His eyes drifted closed. They opened again shortly after, the innate talent of the Hyuuga family, the Byakugan, activated. Because of his Byakugan, the Hyuuga house considered him a prodigy. He was one of the few "Branch" members with a Byakugan that saw through only objects but also illusions, and, on rare occasions, time.
Instead of using his unique vision for insight, he began the necessary visualisation to complete the summoning. This was simple. He could do this. There was no doubt.
He took a deep breath and cleared his throat.
"Over the earth, the lake: the image of Gathering Together. Thus the superior man renews his weapons in order to meet the unforeseen."
In his mind, he saw the lake on the Hyuuga property. It lay over thick, dark soil. The lakebed was the joining of the two elements. They gathered together, just as he would make the mortal and divine coils gather together.
The sunlight suddenly felt bright on his face. The small, still puddle of water beneath his feet began to shine. Magical energy flooded the place.
Neji smirked. Now was the time for the real incantation. The words that would summon the family's favourite god.
"If you are sincere, but not to the end, there will sometimes be confusion, sometimes gathering together. If you call out, then after one grasp of the hand you can laugh again. Regret not. Going is without blame."
That was it. A simple chant, taken directly from the I Ching. Ts'ui, Gathering Together. The meeting of trigrams Tui and K'un.
The already hot light flared even hotter. It was as if everything had gone white-hot, even his skin. The very air around him burned with magic.
He squeezed his eyes shut, using the Byakugan to see through his eyelids. But the light input was too heavy, and there was too much magic around. He couldn't see a thing.
As if from a great distance, he heard a woman screaming. And then the light dimmed, returning to its mundane level. The air cooled, feeling blissfully refreshing against his over-heated skin.
It was as if he hadn't done any magic at all.
He opened his eyes.
A slim brunette knelt in the dead centre of the circle. She trembled and quivered and whimpered. He could see a faint glow around her tanned flesh, noted several spears, a few shields, and a short sword.
Whoever she was, he realised, she was definitely a supernatural entity.
The mystery woman opened her eyes. She blinked blearily at him, and then asked, in a slightly high voice, "Am I safe?"
LUCK BE A LADY; TBC 27 DECEMBER 2006